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Painting for purpose: DeKalb boy slain in 2019 shooting remembered as ‘so much fun’


Andrea Harden refuses to believe that her son’s death due to a shooting could be for naught. So much so that it’s inspired her to help bring exposure to victims of gun violence.


Harden hosted an event Saturday, June 5 to memorialize her son, Ezra “E.J.” Hill Jr., who died due to a 2019 shooting.


“I’m really happy that everyone came out to support and to spread awareness for gun violence,” Harden said.


The event featured, among other things, food, fellowship, music and rock painting.


E.J. was a Tyler Elementary School fourth-grader, who was shot March 23, 2019 while sitting with his father in a car outside his father’s home in south suburban Harvey. He died of his injuries two days later.


“It was a horrible, tragic thing that happened, but he really impacted this whole community,” Harden said.


Among those on hand for the event were numerous family members, friends, classmates and others.


Jacqueline Griffey said she felt compelled to show support for E.J.


“I was E.J.’s babysitter from five years old all the way up until he was 10,” Griffey said. “He was best friends with my son. He was like a brother to all of them.”

Griffey recalled the mood in her home upon hearing about E.J.’s death.


“It was really difficult for my children,” she said. “They grew up like brothers.”

Since his death, a tree has been planted in E.J.’s memory outside Tyler Elementary School.

Harden said she came up with the idea of having everyone at the event paint rocks after noticing some of the original rocks that were laid in E.J.’s memory in front of the tree were missing.


“My sister gave me a different perspective,” she said. “She said, ‘look it as E.J.’s love being spread everywhere. You never know who’s connected to him and wants that connection to him. They might take that rock because they want a piece of him.’ So, she said, ‘look at it like that and don’t get sad about it.’”


Harden said it’s clear that E.J.’s death rocked the community.


“He went to four different schools,” she said. “He went to Tyler, Lincoln, Founders and Brooks [elementary schools.] So, he touched everybody. He really did. He touched everybody. He made them laugh; he made them dance. Each grade was a different school because of redistricting and some of it was because I moved. It was meant for him to touch everybody. It was meant for him to go to all those schools. I really think that it was good thing E.J. was able to touch everybody with that smile, laughter. E.J. was so much fun.”